with Mark Robinson:
Q1: When did you start writing and first influences?
Mark: I started writing, like most writers, young. I remember really getting into the ‘creative’ writing time in 3rd grade actually. I do not remember who I was reading then, but I do remember reading a lot of Steven King around 12, 13, 14 yrs old—not the horror stuff, the really great stories that were turned into movies like Stand By Me, The Shawshank Redemption. Probably unusual for a poet, yes? My first poetic influences though…not surprisingly Mary Oliver as I was an undergrad in Iowa City in the 90s and her work was starting to be very well known and taught in universities more, and has a way of speaking to people. Li-Young Lee and Raymond Carver were pretty huge in those years just after my undergrad as well.
Q2: Who are your biggest influences today?
Mark: It is hard for me to say who directly influences me today. I read as much poetry as I can and anything you put into your head can and maybe should find its way onto the page, into the work. Most of what I read now is contemporary so I have read all the big new books out and love the work from Diane Seuss, Ada Limon, Maggie Smith but there are so many great poets right now. I really love Keetje Kuipers and Jane Huffman. Older influences are still going to be there– Emily Dickinson, Whitman to an extent. Reading Letters to A Young poet was moving, as well as exploring Rilke’s work after. And I have always love Wallace Stevens too— so while no one can really imitate him, his sound is something to try to learn at least. It can’t hurt.
Q3: Any pivotal moment when you knew you wanted to be a writer?
Mark: Eh….8th grade when my Language Arts teacher made me read my poem about Yankee Stadium to the class about 7 times. I had a solid understanding of the poetic devices we studied. Then, day one in an undergrad poetry class and Mary Szybist opens by not introducing herself or welcoming the class but by reciting Idea of Order at Key West. And Mary has a rather marvelous voice. I do not know if I definitely wanted to be a writer at any of those moments—I remember both distinctly though.
Q4: Who has helped you most with writing?
Mark: Jessica Mehta, Kathy Goodkin, Marissa Bell Toffoli and Paula Cisewski. Each of them, in their way, let me know I was worthy…my work is good. That has been the most important “instruction” I have ever received. The other stuff, the prompts and the workshops, suggestions, etc. are very good and interesting to me, but the acknowledgment of the work is much more important. Being a writer is a very fragile thing.
Q5: Where did you grow up and how did that influence your writing & did any travels away from there influence your work?
Mark: I grew up in Central Iowa, and this is my home again now. I think travel and moving around in general has been good for me. I have lived in many cities—Des Moines, Iowa City, Phoenix, Seattle, Denver, Twin Cities, Kansas City—and that ability to be move in and out of that kind of change is something. However, I remind myself pretty regularly about Emily Dickinson’s life and that she accomplished so much without really going anywhere but outside.
Q6: What do you consider your most meaningful work you’ve done creatively so far to you?
Mark: My most meaningful work is definitely my chapbook, Just Last Days. This is a project that I was able to put all together, so there is that, and I have a really beautiful book to show for it. And in addition I think those poems represented a real breakthrough for me in terms of voice. I think I started to recognize my voice in those poems, my first published in journals and my first collection.
Q7: What are your favorite activities to relax?
Mark: My first favorite is to read. Boring, right? I am a big sports fan too though. In the fall I will definitely watch football on weekends, which is both relaxing and stressful (in a relaxing way). I like travelling very much too. I tend to want to be outside more when I am travelling—especially love the ocean, and mountains/different landscapes are interesting… and I feel like I am truly away from everyday life so that is relaxing.
Q8: What is a favorite line/stanza from a poem of yours or others?
Mark: —“She sang beyond the genius of the sea”; first line of Wallace Stevens’ Idea of Order at Key West.
Q9: Any recent or forthcoming projects that you’d like to promote?
Mark: I am really enjoying my work as reader for a couple of great journals—Frontier Poetry and Mud Season Review. I’d love to grow these experiences into something more in the writing community. I have a good number of unpublished poems that I had hoped by now would be more together and in book-length manuscript. The progress has been slower than I want but that is my next project—a new book. I have some title ideas, so the hard part is done, right?